Under the Previous Administration, Wall Construction Cost American Taxpayers Up To $46 Million per Mile, Shortchanged the Military, and Caused Serious Risks to Life, Safety, and the Environment

The Biden Administration inherited a broken immigration system – one that wasted billions of taxpayer dollars and neither kept the American people safe nor adhered to our values. Wall construction along the Southern border in recent years is just one example of the prior Administration’s misplaced priorities and failure to manage migration in a safe, orderly, and humane way.

In total, the previous Administration built 52 miles of wall where no barrier previously existed, with some wall segments costing American taxpayers up to $46 million per mile. The effort diverted critical resources away from military training facilities and schools, and caused serious risks to life, safety, and the environment. It also took attention away from genuine security challenges, like drug smuggling and human trafficking.

On his first day in office, President Biden issued a Proclamation terminating the redirection of funds for border wall construction, pausing all wall construction to the extent permitted by law, and requiring the Secretary of Homeland Security and the Secretary of Defense, in consultation with the Office of Management and Budget, to develop plans for funds concerning the Southern border wall.

The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and the Department of Defense (DOD) have developed plans reaffirming the Administration’s commitment to serious policy solutions. Under these plans, DHS and DOD are: 1) canceling wall projects funded with resources diverted from military construction and other efforts and return the remaining available funds to their original appropriated purposes; 2) ending wall expansion to the extent permitted by law; and 3) addressing safety and environmental issues resulting from border wall construction under the previous Administration.

Additionally, the Administration is reiterating its call for Congress to cancel funds it previously appropriated for border barrier projects so that these resources can instead be used for modern, effective border management measures to improve safety and security.

Advancing Serious Policy Solutions That Will Keep Our Country Safe, Strong, and Prosperous

This Administration is focused on strategies that facilitate fair and orderly migration at the border and keep border communities safe. This includes addressing the root causes of migration, driving 21st century technological solutions for border management, and giving people options to apply for asylum and other legal pathways in their home country.

Building a massive wall that spans the entire southern border and costs American taxpayers billions of dollars is not a serious policy solution or responsible use of Federal funds. Most contraband is likely to come through legal ports of entry. And many families fleeing the violence in Central America are voluntarily presenting themselves to border patrol officials. Fixing our immigration system will require investments in flexible solutions and technologies that expand the ability to detect illicit activity and improve the effectiveness of border management operations.

Agency plans for border wall funds build on the Administration’s commitment to real policy solutions, including proposals in the President’s Budget for Fiscal Year 2022 to:

  • Address the root causes of migration from Central America. The Budget provides an $861 million investment in the region as a first step toward a 4-year commitment of $4 billion.
  • Make our legal immigration system operate more fairly and effectively. The Budget includes $891 million for the Executive Office for Immigration Review, including funds to support 100 new immigration judges to reduce immigration court backlogs, and $345 million for the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services to reduce asylum backlogs and modernize systems.
  • Advance 21st century solutions for border management. The Budget provides roughly $1.2 billion for border infrastructure, which includes: modernization of land ports of entry; investments in modern border security technology and assets; and efforts to ensure the safe and humane treatment of migrants in Customs and Border Patrol (CBP) custody.

Additionally, the Administration continues to call on Congress to pass the U.S. Citizenship Act to put in place long-term reforms and allocate additional resources necessary to update a broken immigration system.

Fulfilling Our Commitment to the U.S. Military

To build a wall along the Southern border, the previous Administration redirected billions of dollars Congress provided for supporting American military personnel and their families and for investing in military installation infrastructure and vehicles, aircraft, and ships.

The Biden Administration is committed to properly equipping American military personnel and caring for their families. Under the agency plans for border wall funds, no more money will be diverted for the purposes of building a border wall, and DOD has started cancelling all border barrier projects using the diverted funds. DOD is also announcing today that it is returning the more than $2 billion remaining in unobligated military construction funds to 66 previously deferred projects in 11 states, 3 territories, and 16 countries. This action will restore funds for on-base schools, hangars, housing, and essential operational and training facilities, including:

  • $10 million for the Missile Field Expansion at Fort Greely in Alaska. The field is part of the U.S. defenses against North Korean ballistic missiles, and was due for an expansion to add two missile interceptors.
  • More than $25 million for the 2nd Radio Battalion Complex in North Carolina. Congress provided funds for the new complex to co-locate two battalions, improve intel fusion capability and efficiencies in training for combat readiness, and meet the growing threat of cyber warfare.
  • $79 million for Spangdahlem Elementary School for U.S. Military Children in Germany. The school, which currently supports over 600 military children, lacks proper air conditioning, plumbing, and security systems and was due for replacement when the prior Administration diverted funds to the wall.
  • More than $25 million for the Fire/Crash Rescue Station at Tyndall Air Force Base in Florida. The station is designed to support up to 15 fire-fighting vehicles and provide space for physical fitness, training, and living quarters for military personnel.
  • More than $9 million for a Small Arms Range in Indiana. The range is needed to enhance readiness of the Air Guard unit through marksmanship training.

Calling on Congress to Cancel Remaining Border Barrier Funds and Stop Border Wall Expansion

Although most of the funds used for the border wall were diverted from other purposes, Congress provided DHS with some funding for border barrier projects. DHS is legally required to use the funds consistent with their appropriated purpose.

The Administration will uphold the rule of law, and utilize all legal authorities to stop wall expansion. The President’s Budget proposes no new funding for border wall construction, and calls on Congress to cancel any border barrier funds that remain at the end of the year so that these resources can instead be used for modern, privacy-protective, and effective border management measures like enhanced technology between points of entry and improved infrastructure at Land Ports of Entry. Unless and until Congress acts on the request, the Administration will continue to use the funds responsibly for their appropriated purpose, as required by law, and DHS has developed a plan to do so.

Addressing Life, Safety, and Environmental Issues from Border Wall Construction

As part of its plan to use appropriated funds responsibly and consistent with their appropriated purpose, DHS is announcing today that it will prioritize the remaining border barrier funds to address urgent life, safety, and environmental issues resulting from the previous Administration’s wall construction. For instance, DHS has already started work to repair the Rio Grande Valley flood protection system that the prior Administration compromised, and to remediate dangerous soil erosion due to improper soil compaction along a 14-mile wall segment in San Diego, California. Neither safety project involves expanding the border barrier, and the projects will be paid for with funds Congress provided DHS for fiscal year 2021.

Additionally, DHS is announcing today that it will also prioritize using the remaining appropriated funds consistent with their appropriated purposes for necessary clean-up of construction sites formerly funded by DoD, including drainage, erosion control, site remediation, and material disposal. And appropriated funds could also be used for mitigating some environmental damage caused by border wall construction.

For those projects that are not urgently needed to address urgent life, safety, and environmental issues, DHS will engage in a comprehensive review that includes detailed environmental impact analysis and remediation, and robust and substantive engagement with relevant stakeholders, including border community residents, their elected representatives, tribal communities, and environmental and other interested non-governmental organizations and advocates.

DHS will also review the status of all pending border wall land eminent domain actions and reassess the extent to which land acquired in prior years remains necessary after environmental planning activities have been completed. If DHS determines use of the land will be necessary, particularly for life, safety, environmental, or other remediation work, it will initiate robust landowner engagement. If DHS determines it no longer requires the use of such land, it will work to return the land to its prior owners.

DHS is also returning remaining Treasury Forfeiture Fund resources to the Department of Treasury.

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